In 2005, Troy Leroux left his job at Anderson Pattern to pursue a new career opportunity. At that time, Anderson was a well-regarded tooling manufacturer for metalcasters but it was fighting foreign competition and inflexible business processes.
In 2010, Leroux was recruited back to schedule production in the roughing department for the company, known now as Anderson Global, and the name was not all that had changed at the 75-year-old, Muskegon, MI, company. Anderson Global still produces complex tooling for high-volume metalcasting. Its products are used by foundries and diecasters that supply castings for automotive, trucking, racing, military, agricultural, marine, appliance, hardware/plumbing, and other market segments, and Anderson’s expertise covers precision sand casting, permanent molds, automatic molding patterns, green sand casting, diecasting, and forging dies.
But, Leroux has been astonished by how much more productive the company had become in five years. He roughly estimates that output through Anderson Global’s CNC manufacturing equipment had increased by 40-50% in that time.
“I was just amazed at the speed at which things were going on,” Leroux said. “But then again, there are other variables involved. When I left, we didn’t have the high-pressure coolant for drilling. Drilling a particular component could take days. Now we can take a mold that used to take minutes to drill and do it in seconds. We’ve standardized our programs and processes. The biggest thing is that machines are no longer standing idle while programs are being written.”
About a year before Leroux left the company, Kevin Knollinger was promoted from his position as a bench worker to a CNC programmer trainee. Anderson was about to shift some of its manufacturing operations to a department with equipment that would be dedicated to roughing, 3D cavity semi-finish, and 2D hole drilling.
The first objective was to take on some 2D machining and hole drilling. That experiment worked well, but it soon became obvious that if the company was going to improve its efficiency by having a department dedicated to roughing it would need a more capable CAD system. Anderson evaluated nearly a half dozen products and determined that Mastercam from CNC Software Inc. was best suited to its needs. Knollinger became the full-time Mastercam programmer, and played an important role in the company’s gradual conversion from paper-based to electronic-based manufacturing.
“Previously,” Knollinger said, “we had to make 2D blueprints for each part that we machined. The machine operator took the 2D print and would program the part at the machine control. Most of the time programming was done while the machine spindle was not running, causing spindle downtime.
“We now have three off-line Mastercam programmers who supply programs to 10 machines, five to seven days a week, for three shifts,” he explained. “Spindle downtime is now limited to changeover setups. We standardized a tool library for all our machines to allow programs to be run on various machines versus a specific machine.
“This creates scheduling flexibility,” Knollinger continued. “Standardizing the tool library also made programming quicker and more efficient because tools and holders are all set. The machine operators are also more efficient because they don’t have to be locating tools for their machines every time they run a new program.”
All about spindle uptime
Knollinger believes that most of the machinists at Anderson today buy into the new paperless way of doing things, but obtaining buy-in wasn’t easy at first. “Programming at the machine had been a big part of their jobs and we were asking them to give that up. Everybody has their own way of doing things, so it’s not easy to give up on your own preferences, particularly when you have been doing things a certain way for years.
“However, I think that most of my coworkers are finally saying that this is really working,” Knollinger said. “It’s not perfect but I think that if we hadn’t done this, we would not be alive today. That’s how important it is.”
Today, the new department has 10 CNC milling machines, Mazak horizontal machines and Mori Seiki vertical machining centers, that are in nearly continuous operation around the clock. Each operator has two machines to set up and run. For the sake of manufacturing consistency and scheduling flexibility, the CNC programs, machine setups, and tooling libraries are standardized as much as possible. However, most of the machinists are skilled machine coders and they can make adjustments to programs at the machine, when needed, to prevent spindle downtime.
Knollinger is the lead programmer and he and two colleagues write all the programs that keep the 10 machines going. He admires the high-precision manufacturing skills of his coworkers in the finishing department, but he estimates that 90% of all the metal cutting that takes place in the shop now occurs in roughing, 3D cavity semi-finish, and 2D hole drilling — a department that didn’t even exist seven years ago. His department is also performing some of the finishing operations when the other side of the shop is log-jammed.
Today, keeping the spindles cutting is the operating strategy for the whole shop. That is the job of the machine operators. The job of the Mastercam programmers is to keep the operator supplied with mistake-free programs that can be set up and run with a minimal amount of downtime. The work begins when the process engineers in the next room send over a Unigraphics model of the tooling configuration.
“We will review their manufacturing process and talk with them if we have a question,” according to Knollinger. “Occasionally we catch something so we are their buffer. By the same token, the machinists all have demo copies of Mastercam on their equipment. So they can simulate what I have done, and sometimes they will catch something that needs to be fixed. So they are my buffer. Going to paperless manufacturing has eliminated a lot of mistakes.”
When Anderson Global launched its new department, the tooling manufacturer was using Mastercam version 9. By October 2010, they were using Mastercam X4 and were looking toward switching over to the next release of the product. Knollinger said that they have a good working relationship with the Mastercam reseller who alerts them when there are new features in the CAD/CAM software that will provide the shop with an opportunity to make significant improvements in CNC operations.
Following are a few examples of CAM software capabilities Knollinger uses routinely to improve productivity.
Computer simulation — Mastercam’s Backplot simulates tool movements throughout the machining process, and Verify shows color-coded views that indicated where too much or too little material has been removed. Using these features, standardizing processes, and eliminating errors formerly associated with manual data entry at the machine, have driven down the occurrences of costly mistakes while machining. Even though a typical run is just one part, the machinist can set up the workpiece in a matter of minutes using magnetic work holders, push the button, and go.
C-hook technologies — “We use a tool called ProDrill for machining vent holes in our core box tooling,” Knollinger said. “This feature-based machining program uses C-Hook technology that allows it to run inside of Mastercam. The software analyzes the vent cylinders and will generate a program with all necessary turns in a matter of seconds. The backside of the lower insert has 20 different turns, with over 300 operations. This program will be run on a Mori Seiki 8000 horizontal machining center with dynamic rotation. The venting portion of this program will run about 16 hours. Before Mastercam, we would have drilled all these angled vent holes manually on a radial drill. This would have taken around 40 hours.”
3D toolpath refinement — Mastercam’s recently introduced toolpath refinement algorithm has also been a useful tool for Anderson Global. This algorithm analyzes the chosen toolpaths and inserts more or fewer points along the path to make it easier for a given controller to respond smoothly to directional changes. Knollinger said, “the upper insert has blow tubes in it. Originally we used a form cutter to mill them when we were machining cast iron, but when machining hardened tool steel the form tools would not hold up. We started to run 3Dtoolpaths on blow tube holes in order to have a machining method that would allow cutters to stay sharp longer.
“The Radial 3D toolpath worked the best on our machines and was taking about 15 to19 minutes per blow tube, and it was still hard on the tool life,” he recalled. “Mastercam X4 was released and the Refine Toolpath setting was added to the surface high-speed paths. We tested different paths, and the waterline path with Refine Toolpath ran very well. The machining was smooth and the finish was excellent. We reduced our roughing and finishing per blow tube to 8 to 10 minutes, and the tool life is much better as well.”
By using these Mastercam X4 features and many other CAM capabilities, Anderson Global has improved programming time, machining time, and spindle uptime for angled vents and blow tubes. This is a major portion of the total hours for a core box project. In turn, this allowed Anderson Global to reduce lead times and offer competitive pricing in an increasingly globalized market place.
Very different company
Troy Leroux was amazed and pleased to see the changes that had taken place in the roughing, semi-finishing, and hole drilling department, and across the organization, when he came returned to work at Anderson Global. The changes he saw were part of a comprehensive strategy orchestrated by company president, John McIntyre, to make his company more resilient, responsive, and competitive
This strategy embraces investment in technology, partnering with customers, lean manufacturing, equipment and personnel flexibility, product and service diversification, along with the ability to undertake parallel development projects using its offshore divisions. If the continuous spinning of spindles is any evidence, the plan is working.